Sweden’s tournament started off with less of a bang than they had hoped, 3 points dropped to a Ukraine team most expected them to beat with games against England and France to come, many expected Sweden to take 3 points and quickly shift their focus to the next game on Friday versus England but this was not the case. 2 goals from Andrey Shevchenko countered the opening goal from Zlatan Ibrahimovic to give Ukraine the victory and send Sweden to the bottom of the group following France and England’s 1-1 draw earlier in the day.
Starting Line up
Sweden went into the game playing a 4-4-1-1 system with Ibrahimovic playing the number 10 role, dropping off the lone striker giving him the playmaking ability to use his skill set to the greatest advantage of the team. Rasmus Elm was asked to sit deeper than usual in the midfield with Kim Kallstrom in trying to dictate the midfield and spread play, while Seb Larsson and Ola Toivonen took up their places on the wings to provide balls into the box. This starting eleven was the tallest on average so far to start at this tournament and should have had the height advantage over their opposition, with the wingers being able to put crosses into the box this would have given Sweden a distinct advantage. Interestingly Markus Rosenberg started up front for Sweden, who had not scored an international goal since 2007, due to an injury to Elmander who was on the bench.
Sweden are more attacking under their coach Erik Hamren
John Motson talking before the kick off.
The First Half
The game started fairly slowly with both teams trying to ease their way into the tournament, with the first real action being Kim Kallstrom going into the book in the 10th minute. Ibrahimovic tried to make his mark on the game by spreading the ball around almost providing an assist in the 16th minute with a lovely ball dinked in from the left hand side. The game came to life in the 34th minute when Ukraine found their way into the game and began to hit Sweden on the counter, getting men in behind the back four of Sweden with Isaksson being forced to make a save. Sweden’s attacks where very central throughout the first half, not using their wingers as much as expected and somethimes preferring to play the long ball towards the head of Ibrahimovic as shown on the left of the image below.
As the Possession chart with heat map on the right of the image above, Sweden attacked very centrally going from right to left, the action when Sweden were on the ball occurred in the centre of midfield with 64.78% of the Swedish possession coming in the two most central areas of the pitch, around where Ibrahimovic spent most of the game. There was very little action or build up play coming from either wing which was unexpected due to the team’s height advantage and the ability of the wingers such as Larsson to whip balls into the area. Whether this was a tactic used by the Swedish to exploit what they thought was a weakness in the Ukrainian side or just a preferance to keep the ball central we will probably never know.
Ibrahimovic had probably the best chance of the first half when his header back across goal hit the woodwork and was cleared, however, Ukraine where beginning to look like the more threatening team as half time approached. Some scrappy defending from the Swedish helped them clear their lines and block a couple of shots in quick succession from the Ukrainian strikers as the sides went into the half deadlocked at 0-0. Ukraine had the better of possession in the first half with 61% compared to Sweden’s 39% as they dominated midfield with patient build up play and short passes to feet. Sweden finished the half with a pass completion rate of only 63% compared to that of Ukraine’s 85%.
The Second Half
The teams began the second half with the same line ups both choosing not to make any changes this early in the match. Sweden started the second half the better side looking more lively than they did prior to the half, it took only 6 minutes for Zlatan Ibrahimovic to score the opener after a superb ball back across goal from Kim Kallstrom which Ibrahimovic slotted away with ease. During the build up to the goal a Ukrainian defender was down injured, but Sweden chose to carry on as they where not required to put the ball out of play and the referee did not stop the game. While the Swedish players may not have seen the man down they still took the advantage and scored as Ibrahimovic got in front of his marker and put the ball in the back of the net. This goal was a record for Ibrahimovic as he became the leading scorer at the European championships for Sweden.
The Swedish lead did not last long as Shevchenko took advantage of poor defending from Sweden, beating Mellberg to the ball and heading it into the back of the net. Olsson did not close down the man who was crossing the ball enabling it to be crossed in and Mellberg was on his heels as Shevchenko eased in front of him to equalise. The defending from Sweden left much to be desired as they continued to look fragile at the back, with Seb Larsson having to track back to help his full back at one point and venting his frustration at his compatriots. Shevchenko added a second in the 61st minute to give Ukraine the lead as he lost his marker , Ibrahimovic, from a corner and managed to squeeze the ball in at the near post beating the man on the line somehow. The goal further emphasised Sweden’s poor defending with Ibrahimovic being assigned to mark Shevchenko seeming a miss match as centre forwards are not generally known for their marking abilities. The defender on the line was not as close to the post as he probably should have been and the ball slipped in between man and post and into the back of the net for 2-1 Ukraine.
As the game had progressed Rasmus Elm was looking rather ineffective as he sat deeper than he normally would in midfield, it would seem that this affected his play and his impact upon the game. In the game Elm only made 9 entries into the attacking third, and created only 3 chances for team mates to score. He attempted 38 passes and completed 30 of them, with 11 of these being square balls and 9 going backward. For the first 61 minutes he sat back and performed his deeper role with only 16 attempted passes in this time it’s clear he struggled to influence the game. As the game progressed and Sweden fell behind, Elm was allowed to move further up to his more favoured attacking role and in the next 32 minutes he attempted 23 passes, completing 20 of them and having a bit more of an impact on the game. The passing stats for the first 60 minutes playing as a deeper midfielder compared to his passes in the final 30 minutes as he pushed up the pitch following Shevchecko’s second goal are shown below.
Even as Sweden were 2-1 down Ibrahimovic continued in his role-playing just off the striker trying to collect the ball deep and set something up for his compatriots, which he achieved late in the game in the 89th minute as he put Elmander through with a lovely pass only for Elmander to blaze it over the bar. Sitting deep also didn’t stop Ibrahimovic from taking shots at goal himself as he finished the game with 4 shots at goal, 2 on target and one goal to his name.
The introduction of Christian Wilhelmsson appeared to spark some attacking life in to Sweden with his presence on the left-wing being felt as he attempted to take on 3 players in the 26 minutes he was on the pitch out of a team total of 18 take ons throughout the match. He also had 1 shot on target and completed 92% of his passes compared to Sebastian Larsson, who he replaced, with a 50% pass completion and 0 shots at goal. Larsson also only attempted to take on one player. Christian Wilhelmsson’s impact on the team’s wide play is visible in the heat chart below as he gave Sweden an option in the second half with his attacking play, increasing the ‘action’ on this area on the pitch by over 10% from the first half, however the right hand side still remained largely unused.
This was not the start to the tournament that Sweden wanted and if they want to progress they will have to do a lot better against England on Friday and France next Tuesday. There are some key areas that have been identified such as their defending, they need to be able to better mark players from crosses coming into the box as this was how both goals were scored, Ukraine were also able to complete 2 of their 3 corners. Going forward they need to gain a bit more width by utilising the left and right hand side more often, especially the right hand side, by doing this they will free up space for their playmaker Ibrahimovic in the centre of the pitch along with Elm who has shown attacking ability all season for his club side and in the final 30 minutes in this game. Possibly this could be achieved through a change in the starting line up with Christian Wilhelmsson’s inclusion following a fairly impressive display compared to some of his team mates against Ukraine. By using the wings they would also create more opportunities to exploit the height advantage they hold over many teams, possibly creating more chances at goal or more knockdowns for shots from the edge of the area. With the return of Elmander, who will hopefully be fit enough to be able to start the next game, Sweden must find weaknesses in the English side to attack and once again Zlatan Ibrahimovic needs to be the hero that Sweden desperately need if they wish to qualify from this group.
Premier League Players
There were only two premier league players on display for Sweden against Ukraine, Sebastian Larson of Sunderland and Martin Olssen of recently relegated Blackburn. Larsson had no attempts at goal, completed only 6 of 12 attempted passes and completed 1 of 6 attempted crosses. He performed better in his defensive duties making 1 out 1 tackles, 2 interceptions and only conceded 1 foul. Martin Olssen completed 74% of his attempted passes during the game, but failed to find a team-mate with either of his 2 attempted crosses. He was successful in both of his 2 attempted tackles, while he also made 3 interceptions. Olssen committed no fouls but was fouled 3 times by the opposition.
(Stats courtesy of Stats Zone and Squawka sports)